Wars, Skittles, Books, Spies, Men

The Longest Wars

George Packer | Foreign Affairs | 16th April 2019

Vivid and intimate portrait of Richard Holbrooke, drawn from life. The sub-title is, “Richard Holbrooke and the Decline Of American Power”. It might as well be, “American Power and the Decline of Richard Holbrooke”. Holbrooke appears here as a brilliant grasper of political realities overseas, yet a clumsily ineffective operator at home. He alienates President Obama in their first conversation; the generals outflank him; he acquiesces to policies in Afghanistan that he privately thinks are doomed (8,570 words)

The Identical Skittles Problem

Eric Farmer | Possibly Wrong | 6th April 2019

How many packets of Skittles would you have to buy before you could reasonably expect to possess at least two packs each containing the same number of Skittles and the same distribution of colours? Test your intuitions against the real-life experiment described here. Conditions: There are always and only five colours per pack; the number of Skittles per pack varies between the mid-40s and the low 70s. Also addressed here, the vexed question of whether yellow Skittles are over-represented (1,650 words)

A Conversation With Hermione Hoby

Book Marks | Literary Hub | 17th April 2019

Short, action-packed interview about the art and craft of book-reviewing. Rare example of a piece that I wish had been three times as long. “The ideal subject [for review] is a book whose failures are interesting to me, and whose project speaks to something important, good or bad or both, happening in the wider culture. I like the idea that there’s a conversation happening between the critic and the work (not the author) — a respectful but rigorous conversation. The rigour, in fact, constitutes the respect” (715 words)

Huawei: A Risk Analysis

Nicholas Weaver | Lawfare | 17th April 2019

Admirably hard-nosed appraisal of the risks and benefits of allowing Huawei to dominate 5G telecom infrastructure. Top figures in business and politics around the world would have to expect their calls to be monitored by Chinese intelligence. “This may actually be a worthwhile trade-off. The damage done by Chinese spies would have to be weighed against the billions of dollars saved by purchasing Huawei equipment. That trade-off just needs to be acknowledged when making purchase decisions” (915 words)

Thérèse And The Man Problem

Harriet Baker | Apollo | 17th April 2019

Brave writing. What to do with art of pervy men? Balthus‘s portrait of Thérèse Dreaming should confuse anybody’s moral compass. “Her figure is taut, riveted, her limbs brimming with the energy of adolescence; her puckered expression is both dreamy and absent. In this murky room, with its red-striped wallpaper and crumpled sheet, she’s alone with a man, who watches her with his paint brush. At her feet, a cat licks from a shallow dish, a visual substitute for his desire, and as moving as it is horrifying” (1,050 words)

Video: Cabin Pressure. Warm, wonderful and very funny guide to behaving badly in aeroplanes. Think of it as the opposite to those pre-flight safety videos (3m 13s)

Audio: How Spotify Saved The Music Industry | Freakonomics Radio. Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, talks about the impact of Spotify’s streaming model on musicians, record companies, and listeners (73m 30s)

“Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not”
— Flannery O’Connor

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